Despite all the hard work I have done to try to help his school understand Luke's difficulties, despite having moved Luke to a private school with smaller class sizes and more understanding, despite the school allowing Luke to do something else instead of games.. .he still does all he can to get out of going. He can tolerate the one he is at now, the bullying is infrequent and dealt with rapidly, but still each morning he decides he would like to stay off to 'catch up on some work', or has a stomach ache or headache or 'accidentally' oversleeps. Each morning therefore, I do an impressive piece of negotiation coupled with an astounding impression of a sergeant major. I talk, cajole and negotiate, but when all else fails (which it invariably does) I then resort to commands - not an ideal solution!
So often we hear that our children are 'fine' at school or elsewhere, only to find that the second they walk through the door, all hell breaks loose. I am told that I should be pleased that my boys are secure enough in my love to know that they can be themselves. It seems I should be delighted that they can vent their anger and frustration at me as it shows that only at home are they truly accepted. Excuse me whilst I dance with joy!
Luke tells me that the most difficult thing about school is trying to make sense of the written and unwritten rules. He says that while everyone seems to know instinctively what to do, where to go and what to say, he feels as if he is drowning in a sea of strange faces, expressions and sensory onslaughts.. .it is no wonder he doesn't want to go!
One concession that Luke's school has made for him is that he now doesn't have to do games. The thought of games was pervading Luke's every waking (and sleeping) thought and making him ill. He loathes games. He despises the confusion, the noise and the hustle and bustle with such a passion that I felt as if I were sentencing him to a spell in the torture chamber each week. It was my job therefore to ensure the teachers understood the severity of his difficulties and also to offer them a viable alternative whilst games were taking place. He now goes into learning support and prints out his work (he uses a laptop), organizes his timetable and does any homework that he may have.
For those of you who have children struggling at school, some of these tips may go some small way towards making your AS child's school life slightly easier.
• Don't fight the school or the education authorities just for the sake of it. As much as it seems like a 'them and us' situation, it is far better for all concerned if parents and professionals can come to some agreement for the good of the child.
• Conversely, as written in earlier chapters, you are your child's advocate so if your child is not getting the support he or she needs, then arm yourself with information and fight for your child's rights. There is information about where to find advice at the end of the book.
• Take in easy-to-read information about your child, and supply it to the relevant teachers. Luke's book (2002) gives an insight into the mind of an AS child and may make the teachers take notice rather more than a book by a professional - of course there are many excellent books by professionals too (see Recommended Reading).
• Spend some time at parents' evenings, quietly assessing the teachers and trying to find out which ones are AS friendly. They don't necessarily have to be knowledgeable (you can supply the information and change that!) about AS, they merely have to have a willingness to learn.
• Once you have worked out who is likely to be your child's ally (and who isn't) then point your child in their direction and encourage your child to liaise with them if they have problems. Remember that in all walks of society, the teaching profession included, there are kind-hearted, good people and ignorant, narrow-minded people. It is our job as a parent to make sure our child knows that too.
• Watch carefully for any changes in your child's behaviour -often an indication of bullying or upset. Try to explain about bullying (again, Luke's book does a good job of that) and that it doesn't need to be an accepted part of school life. Remember that an AS child won't automatically know that he or she is being bullied or that you should be told about it.
• Remember that your child needs time to 'defrag' (thanks Sal - a word of wisdom from a wise friend) when he or she comes home from school, so let your child adhere to routines or autistic behaviours that give comfort and enable him or her to process the day's events in his or her own time.
• Consider enrolling your AS child to do a martial art such as Taekwondo. Luke, Joe, me and the girls all do Taekwondo and it has made miraculous changes to Luke's confidence, balance, coordination and self-discipline. I can't speak highly enough of it.
Do we all look tough?!
Do we all look tough?!
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